Israeli Document: Gaza Blockade Isn't About Security

Published on
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McClatchy Newspapers

Israeli Document: Gaza Blockade Isn't About Security

by
Sheera Frenkel

Palestinian children from the Al-Qarawi family eat lunch in a tent in the northern Gaza Strip June 9, 2010. The tent was erected after their family's house was destroyed during Israel's three-week offensive in Gaza last year. McClatchy obtained an Israeli government document that describes the blockade not as a security measure but as "economic warfare" against the Islamist group Hamas, which rules the Palestinian territory. (REUTERS/Mohammed Salem)

JERUSALEM — As Israel ordered a slight easing of its blockade of
the Gaza Strip Wednesday, McClatchy obtained an Israeli government
document that describes the blockade not as a security measure but as
"economic warfare" against the Islamist group Hamas, which rules the
Palestinian territory.

Israel imposed severe restrictions on Gaza in June 2007, after Hamas
won elections and took control of the coastal enclave after winning
elections there the previous year, and the government has long said
that the aim of the blockade is to stem the flow of weapons to
militants in Gaza.

Last
week, after Israeli commandos killed nine volunteers on a
Turkish-organized Gaza aid flotilla, Israel again said its aim was to
stop the flow of terrorist arms into Gaza.

However,
in response to a lawsuit by Gisha, an Israeli human rights group, the
Israeli government explained the blockade as an exercise of the right
of economic warfare.

"A country has the right to decide that it
chooses not to engage in economic relations or to give economic
assistance to the other party to the conflict, or that it wishes to
operate using 'economic warfare,'" the government said.

McClatchy
obtained the government's written statement from Gisha, the Legal
Center for Freedom of Movement, which sued the government for
information about the blockade. The Israeli high court upheld the suit,
and the government delivered its statement earlier this year.

Sari
Bashi, the director of Gisha, said the documents prove that Israel
isn't imposing its blockade for its stated reasons, but rather as
collective punishment for the Palestinian population of Gaza. Gisha
focuses on Palestinian rights.

(A State Department spokesman, who wasn't authorized to speak for the record, said he hadn't seen the documents in question.)

The
Israeli government took an additional step Wednesday and said the
economic warfare is intended to achieve a political goal. A government
spokesman, who couldn't be named as a matter of policy, told McClatchy
that authorities will continue to ease the blockade but "could not lift
the embargo altogether as long as Hamas remains in control" of Gaza.

President
Barack Obama, after receiving Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the
Palestinian Authority, said the situation in Gaza is "unsustainable."
He pledged an additional $400 million in aid for housing, school
construction and roads to improve daily life for Palestinians — of
which at least $30 million is earmarked for Gaza.

Israel's
blockade of Gaza includes a complex and ever-changing list of goods
that are allowed in. Items such as cement or metal are barred because
they can be used for military purposes, Israeli officials say.

According
to figures published by Gisha in coordination with the United Nations,
Israel allows in 25 percent of the goods it had permitted into Gaza
before the Hamas takeover. In the years prior to the closure, Israel
allowed an average of 10,400 trucks to enter Gaza with goods each
month. Israel now allows approximately 2,500 trucks a month.

The
figures show that Israel also has limited the goods allowed to enter
Gaza to 40 types of items, while before June 2007 approximately 4,000
types of goods were listed as entering Gaza.

Israel expanded its
list slightly Wednesday to include soda, juice, jam, spices, shaving
cream, potato chips, cookies and candy, said Palestinian liaison
official Raed Fattouh, who coordinates the flow of goods into Gaza with
Israel.

"I think Israel wants to defuse international pressure,"
said Fattouh. "They want to show people that they are allowing things
into Gaza."

It was the first tangible step taken by Israel in the
wake of the unprecedented international criticism it's faced over the
blockade following last week's Israeli raid on the high seas.

While
there have been mounting calls for an investigation into the manner in
which Israel intercepted the flotilla, world leaders have also called
for Israel to lift its blockade on Gaza.

At his meeting with
Abbas, Obama said the Security Council had called for a "credible,
transparent investigation that met international standards." He added:
"And we meant what we said. That's what we expect."

He also
called for an easing of Israel's blockade. "It seems to us that there
should be ways of focusing narrowly on arms shipments, rather than
focusing in a blanket way on stopping everything and then, in a
piecemeal way, allowing things into Gaza," he told reporters.

Egypt,
which controls much of Gaza's southern border, reopened the Rafah
crossing this week in response to international pressure to lift the
blockade.

Egypt has long been considered Israel's partner in
enforcing the blockade, but Egyptian Foreign Minister Hossam Zaki said
the Rafah crossing will remain open indefinitely for Gazans with
special permits. In the past, the border has been opened sporadically.

Maxwell
Gaylard, the U.N.'s humanitarian coordinator in the Palestinian
territories, said the international community is seeking an "urgent and
fundamental change" in Israel's policy regarding Gaza rather than a
piecemeal approach.

"A modest expansion of the restrictive list
of goods allowed into Gaza falls well short of what is needed. We need
a fundamental change and an opening of crossings for commercial goods,"
he said.

Hamas officials said that they were "disappointed" by
Israel's announcement, and that the goods fell far short of what was
actually needed.

"They will send the first course. We are waiting
for the main course," Palestinian Economy Minister Hassan Abu Libdeh
said in Ramallah, specifying that construction materials were the item
that Gazans need most. Many Palestinians have been unable to build
their homes in the wake of Operation Cast Lead, Israel's punishing
offensive in the Gaza Strip in December 2008 and January 2009.

Israel said the cement and other construction goods could be used to build bunkers and other military installations.

Some of those goods already come into Gaza via the smuggling tunnels that connect it to Egypt.

(Frenkel,
a McClatchy special correspondent, reported from Jerusalem. Warren P.
Strobel and Steven Thomma contributed to this article from Washington.)

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